Brexit battles: Milan renews fight with Amsterdam over lucrative EU meds agency

Milan renewed its struggle with Amsterdam over who will host the prestigious European Medicines Agency (EMA) post-Brexit this week, after it emerged that the facilities Amsterdam is building for it won’t be ready in time.

Because of the construction delay, Italy has applied for an annulment of the Amsterdam decision, while the EMA’s executive director has complained of having to spend months in temporary accommodation when the agency leaves London’s Canary Wharf starting in January 2019.

At stake is an EU institution that provides 890 high-value jobs, attracts 36,000 visitors a year, and brings its host city an estimated $1.7bn a year.

In November Amsterdam won a fierce competition after EU ministers voted to pick a new host from among 16 candidate cities.

After three rounds of voting Amsterdam and Milan were tied, but Amsterdam won in a draw of lots.

The move is due to be made when the UK takes its leave of the EU in March 2019.

Cities lobbied intensely to host the EMA, which is responsible for the scientific evaluation, supervision and monitoring of medicines for humans and animals throughout the EU.

But it emerged on Monday that the €300m complex the Dutch agreed to build for the agency in Zuidas financial district would not be ready until November 2019.

This prompted Italy to apply on Tuesday to European Court of Justice in Luxembourg for an annulment of the decision.

Its government said it wanted to ensure the choice of Amsterdam was not made on incomplete grounds or because any facts were concealed – such as when Amsterdam’s state-of-the-art facility would be ready.

Milan’s mayor Beppe Sala said the disruption to the EMA risked the health of EU citizens, and said Milan was "ready and operational".

The EMA’s executive director Guido Rasi expressed dissatisfaction with the whole affair on Monday.

He said the EMA would have to start decanting from Canary Wharf into the new headquarters in January 2019 in order to be completely out of the UK by March.

The Dutch government’s initial offer of temporary accommodation was unsuitable, he said, and while the parties had agreed on a better temporary site, it was still too small, with only half the space available in Canary Wharf. External meeting facilities would have to be found, he said.

"[T]the physical relocation of EMA to a new host country is the single biggest challenge EMA has ever had to deal with since its establishment," he said,

The double move "means that it will take us longer to go back to normal operations, where we can again carry out important public health activities", he added.

Victory for Milan was not in the bag, however, said Italy’s Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni.

He told public broadcaster Rai: "The game is not over yet," adding: "We must not have any illusions, it will not be easy because there are procedures to be respected".

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